Re: Levirate Marriage in Glorantha?

From: John Patrick Hughes <john.hughes_at_5v6qCfcivxlXcUBWht0fkkvD2jEMDJNrVArYkyWuO2J0AySr0HpWdfBgVKvQNIJU>
Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2008 10:55:32 +1100 (EST)

CJ wrote:
> Just out of curiosity do any Gloranthan cultures practice levirate

Gedday CJ

Two basic principles here, IMO, one about reality, one about fiction.

Levirate marriage (where a man marries the wife of his dead brother) is one example of a human cultural adaptation. I say 'adaptation' because it has causes and effects, it arises in particular circumstances and may die out or be replaced by other solutions. It has an ecology and a history.

Glorantha is a shared fictional world, and is so complex that no one is ever going to understand it all (even if its organising principles were static, and they're not). Its not a fixed place to be discovered - even though that's a trope we commonly use - its an ever-changing playground of ideas. Its reality for you is set by a generally agreed background, your own creativity and storytelling needs, the genre you are working in (which includes the interests and taboos of your players, this year's roleplaying fashions, what's hot at the movies, whether you think ducks are a good idea ...) and how much detail is necessary or enjoyable for your immediate purposes.

Its also worth noting that if you don't know much about X, whether its volcanoes or duck sexuality or levirate marriage, its unlikely to play any part in your storytelling or creativity. The nice thing about Glorantha is that somewhere, sometime, someone will come along who does know about X, and will expand, correct or redefine the possibilities. Its the rock upon which our community is built.

So levirate in Glorantha? YGWV. Gloranthan creators sometimes spend a lot of energy in building a sense of social and historical realism into their fictions, sometimes they ignore it almost completely in pursuing the greater needs of the story. Whether or not you emphasise realism in a particular circumstance depends on genre needs, and to a lesser extend whether your passion is about pyroclastic flow or hero fables or everyday life in ancient Anglo-Saxon England or about killing broo with great hewing strokes. Even when we are building pure background, as in say Thunder Rebels, or Greg's Unfinished Works, what is pursued as 'realistic' and what is conjured as fantastic/magical comes down to a matter of choice, of preference. 'Realism' is never applied consistently in Glorantha or indeed in any type of fantastic fiction: and the choice as to when it is applied and when it is ignored is ultimately one of understanding and ideology.

In the levirate, when a woman's husband dies, she will marry one of his brothers - as a result she will remain married to a man from her husband's patrilineage and her children (if any) from her prior marriage will continue to be raised among members of their patrilineage.

So what are the principles by which levirate marriage might come into existence in a particular place and a particular time? Its a rule of adaptation to deal with family situations that don't fit the cultural ideal. Its commonly found in patrilineal societies with strong clan structures and either where marriage is more about inter-clan bonding than personal feelings or where the clan is endogamous (in-marrying). Without jumping into my anthro library (which is largely at work) its basically about retaining control of male offspring, their identity, their rights, and their claims to property.

The examples that spring to mind for most of us will be its existence in the Tanakh (what Christians call the Old Testament)in Deuteronomy. And Hamlet. And Henry VIII.

Those examples alone should conjure some storytelling possibilities. In post-Exilic Judaism the levirate was hotly contested and generally thought to be a bad thing - it had already outgrown its usefulness, but unfortunately was the word of god and so couldn't be changed. Luckily other strategies existed ... and an editing of Leviticus explicitly forbade the practice. There was a contradiction, but so what, every religious tradition has its contradictions. It's generally a positive thing, it allows the powerful to pick and choose what is followed and what is ignored. That's why there are priests and theologians.

Hamlet gives us an insight into the emotional effects of a levirate type marriage on those affected by it - and its not pretty. And for Henry VIII, the political and theological machinations surrounding the levirate (his wife Catherine of Aragon had originally married his older brother Arthur) led to the creation of a new religion and ultimately a new Europe.

There will be tribal locales in the east of Genertela and in Pamaltela where the levirate is common. There will be patches of Darra Happa, especially among the nobility, where the custom is carried out: though not necessarily commonly or without controversy. And certainly not without winners ans losers, plotting, heartbreak, and the chance of redemption.

Hence our stories. :)

And finally, this is Glorantha. There may be other, magical ways to achieve the same effect. Think curses, rune magics, spirit marriages...



John Hughes


Mytheme gallery:

There was a muddy centre before we breathed.
There was a myth before the myth began,
Venerable and articulate and complete.

>From this the poem springs: that we live in a place
that is not our own, and much more, not ourselves. And hard it is in spite of blazoned days. -- Wallace Stevens.

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